'Das Boot' lenser wins early legal victory

Residuals battle over post-2002 boxoffice earnings

COLOGNE, Germany -- Cinematographer Jost Vacano ("Starship Troopers") has won a key legal victory in his legal battle to secure residuals for his work on Wolfgang Petersen's 1981 boxoffice hit "Das Boot."

Vacano was paid DM180,000 (around $114,000) for his lensing of the anti-war classic. The film won an Oscar for best foreign language film and Vacano's camerawork picked up an Academy Award nomination. "Das Boot" has earned an estimated $100 million at the boxoffice world-wide and substantially more on home video and DVD.

A German court of appeals has upheld a lower court ruling supporting Vacano in his efforts to find out how much producers Bavaria and public network WDR have made from "Das Boot" since 2002. The court ruled the producers have to open their books. Only then can Vacano try and prove he is owed further compensation.

The court, however, said Vacano does not have a right to information about residuals earned before 2002 because German law at the time favored the producers. It also rejected Vacano's claims against Bavaria's home entertainment division EuroVideo.

"Das Boot" producers have rejected Vacano's suit as "completely unfounded," pointing out his fee was on the high end for German cameramen at the time.

The Vacano suit is a test case for such legal claims against producers of boxoffice hits. Given the success of German films in their home market -- last year around a third of the local boxoffice was for homegrown productions -- such suits are likely to increase substantially in the coming years.